Driving after an operation - when can i get back behind the wheel?

This is a question that I get asked lots by patients after they have had recent surgery, particularly hip and knee surgery. There is, unfortunately, no simple answer to the question as every case should be considered on an individual basis. A good resource is the austroads website which has recently updated the assessing fitness to drive document. The document shows all relevant conditions and their impact on driving ability. However there are still no clear guidelines for short term musculoskeletal conditions.

The guide says; "5.2.4 Short-term musculoskeletal conditions

People with severe musculoskeletal pain (e.g. in the neck or thoracolumbar region) and reduced mobility, including that arising from wearing soft collars or braces, should be advised not to drive for the duration of their treatment. Some loss of neck movement is allowable if the vehicle is fitted with adequate internal and externally mounted mirrors, and provided the driver meets the visual standards for driving and has no cognitive or insight limitations that might impact upon adoption of compensatory strategies.

A person should generally not drive for a period of time after major orthopaedic surgery. This should be determined by the treatingdoctor and is not a licensing issue."

What does this mean then? From my point of view and how I advise patients is that you must be safe to drive. This firstly means can you operate all the controls in your car safely - accelerator, brake, clutch, steering wheel, blinkers, mirrors, wipers, gearstick and handbrake? The second part to the answer is can you operate all of these in all circumstances? That is, can you react quickly enough in an emergency situation. For lower limb injuries, this means can you get your foot from the accelerator to the brake quick enough to stop the car. For upper limb injuries, can you turn sharply to get out of the way of another object. The best way to test is to actually get in the car and try around quiet streets near home and gradually build up to more traffic and busier roads.

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